The advancement of ICT in Africa has put it in a strong opportunity to capitalise on technology in the machine-to-machine field, says KEES SNIJDERS, MD of Flickswitch.
Thanks to the advancement of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) on the continent, Africa is in a strong position to capitalise on forecasts that the machine-to-machine (M2M) sector will generate $40 billion in global services revenue by 2019, says Kees Snijders, MD of Flickswitch.
Machine to machine refers to direct communication between devices using any communications channel, including wired and wireless. Forming part of the Internet of Things, M2M enables systems to communicate with other devices anywhere in the world.
“Africa has an enviable reputation of using technologically-driven solutions to overcome many of its challenges. And while not all countries share the same priorities, there are sectors that are universally important across the continent. These are agriculture, asset tracking, retail payments, and energy.”
He believes that M2M has an important part to play across these industries to not only improve efficiencies but also to reduce costs.
Water and agriculture management improves
“By implementing M2M to help with flow and pump monitoring, wastage in water can be reduced. We know too well that it has become an incredibly scarce resource on the continent. The rapid detection of leaks and careful monitoring of dam and reservoir levels mean that M2M solutions can notify relevant authorities before water levels are dangerously low,” says Snijders.
Of course, it goes beyond just water monitoring. M2M is also able to track game and livestock through technology such as tracking systems and drones. This means farmers have a more real-time view of what is going on around them and where specific issues are that need to be addressed.
In South Africa, a solutions provider has developed a livestock collar incorporating GPS and GSM technology that monitors the behaviour of a group of animals and sends an alert to the farmer’s mobile phone if there is abnormal behaviour (normally associated with theft or a predator attack).
Meanwhile, in the United States, a law was passed in November last year permitting companies to fly drones commercially on a case-by-case basis. This means that for the first time, agriculture drones will (legally) gather data across an entire growing season. By significantly improving the intelligence they have at their disposal, farmers will now be able to not only test their business models, but also become significantly more efficient. Given the significant water shortages in South Africa, drones could play a similarly critical role in our near future..
M2M is more than just about vehicle tracking
“M2M enables businesses to closely monitor goods that are in transit. Everything from the temperature at the back of the truck and its ambient conditions, to finding the optimum route, can be done using the technology. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that the traditional tracking businesses are not necessarily the ones adopting the most advanced M2M solutions.”
According to Snijders, this has created an opportunity for smaller businesses to come up with innovative use cases for M2M that can appeal to a number of vertical sectors. “The level of sophistication required to keep up with theft and hijackings means traditional tracking devices are no longer good enough. M2M enables providers to adapt their solutions to meet changing requirements faster and more cost-effectively”, he says.
Research from MarketsandMarkets.com indicate the fleet management market is certainly a priority for many organisations globally. Rising global concerns around the environment and an increasing need for operational efficiencies in the fleet sector fuel expectations that the sector will grow from $8 billion in 2015 to $22.53 billion by 2020.
On the retail point of sale (PoS) front, there is a lot of movement happening thanks to M2M
“As the capabilities of consumer devices improve, mobile payment solutions like SnapScan and M-Pesa are driving significant growth in retail payments. Different markets are doing the things that suit their specific audiences, forcing retailers to think differently around M2M and adopt technologies in new and exciting ways. The pervasiveness of pay points is adding to this growth.”
Developing countries are in prime position to benefit from the strength of PoS in the M2M world. Brazil, the largest M2M market in Latin America, has already seen a compound annual growth rate of 48 percent over the last four years in M2M thanks mainly to PoS terminals connected by GSM.
Snijders adds that, “As with agriculture and water, energy is a vital sector on the continent.
Things like smart metering and solar are certainly increasing in adoption rates but they are not pervasive as yet. With energy presenting such a significant growth sector, we can expect sizeable investment to take place. Additionally, many operators are using M2M as a great way to showcase its potential in the energy sector.”
Research conducted by Ovum show that the energy and utilities sector is one of the most important ones in the global M2M market. The consultancy projects the sector to hit $7 billion in global revenue by 2018. Given the critical nature of energy in Africa, it could well be a good one to invest for the coming years.
Companies across Africa need to be aware that M2M is not only growing but thriving. Decision-makers need to think outside the box and leverage advances in technologies in innovative ways to capitalise on this.
Africa gets broadband boost
ITU and Nexpedience, a supplier of proprietary point-to-multipoint broadband infrastructure, are partnering to bring broadband access to Africa.
Under the terms of the deal, Nexpedience will provide 180 new Expedience base stations worth USD 1 million, to be deployed in six nations across the continent. The first nation to benefit from the new infrastructure is Burundi, with deployments also planned for Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Mali, Rwanda and Swaziland.
Designed to withstand extreme meteorological conditions and capable of providing up to 32 kilometres of sector coverage, Nexpedience’s base stations have been specifically designed for rural deployment.
ITU’s Wireless Broadband Network in Africa project aims to develop and implement wireless broadband connectivity and applications that will provide free or low-cost digital access for schools, hospitals, and under-served populations in rural and remote areas Africa-wide.
At the signing of the agreement in Geneva, Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) emphasized the need to make developing countries part of the global broadband revolution: ‚”This partnership represents another important element in ITU’s efforts to bring broadband technology to the world even in the poorest nations. I am confident that this new partnership will accelerate broadband uptake right across the African continent, bringing the power of high-speed connectivity to users everywhere, from big cities to small villages.‚”
Kiriako Vergos, CEO of Nexpedience said: ‚”Giving access to broadband technology to underserved populations in Africa is of great importance to us. There are enormous benefits to be derived from a ‚’broadband-seed’ deployment strategy, and we decided to partner with ITU because we know that the organization has the team in place to get it done.‚”
ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Tour√© said the new agreement is a ‚”major step forward in getting Africa connected‚”. Dr Tour√© led the establishment of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010, which has the aim of putting broadband at the heart of the global development agenda.
Nokia backs tech hubs for developing world
Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev are collaborating with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to act as scouts for local talent.
Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev, a global innovation program of the World Bank, have announced a collaboration with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America – a move that will empower these hubs to act as scouts and agents for local talent, fast-tracking their access to AppCampus funding.
AppCampus was established in 2012 as a mobile application accelerator program managed by Aalto University in Finland. With an 18 million euro joint investment between Microsoft and Nokia, the aim is to foster mobile application development on Windows Phone and any other Nokia platform.
The announcement earmarks part of that investment fund for twenty six awards per annum for the best mobile innovation ideas to be made via the mobile innovation hub network, starting with infoDev’s mobile application labs in South Africa, Kenya, Armenia and Vietnam, as well as mobile application laboratories in Egypt (TIEC), Nigeria (CC Hub) and Mexico. The value of each award ranges from 20,000 Euro (US$ 26,000) to 70,000 Euro (US$ 90,000) depending on the complexity of the solution or business model behind the idea.
‚”By working jointly with the mobile innovation hubs, we are able to connect more effectively with local developers in emerging markets and provide support in terms of funding, especially for locally relevant innovations,‚” says Pekka Sivonen, Head of AppCampus. ‚”Although the criteria to access the AppCampus funding remains the same, with ideas needing to be original, competitive and scalable, the advantage is faster processing and the mentorship provided by these innovation hubs.‚”
The hubs and mLabs will be responsible for scouting talent and vetting ideas to be submitted to the global pool. infoDev’s mLabs foster regional entrepreneurship, employment and competitiveness by providing open spaces where developers can find training, mentoring, technical expertise and access to financing. In a short time, mLab-supported startups have brought over 120 commercial apps to market The best new entries from this network will compete against each other each quarter for the available awards.
‚”Nokia, working closely with infoDev, has supported the establishment and operation of a number of mLabs across emerging markets in support of local developers,‚” says Jussi Hinkkanen, vice president corporate relations for Nokia Middle East and Africa. ‚”The AppCampus collaboration showcases our commitment to strengthening the growing mLab network around the world and infoDev’s vision of supporting emerging market entrepreneurs in conquering local, regional and global markets‚”.
The official launch of the program took place during the mobile stream at the Global Forum on Innovation & Technology Entrepreneurship in East London, South Africa, organized by infoDev and the South African Department of Science & Technology. A key theme of the Forum is how innovation can lead to high-growth entrepreneurship which creates sustainable jobs. Valerie D’Costa, infoDev’s Program Manager says, ‚”The AppCampus initiative fits with the philosophy of infoDev of supporting innovative entrepreneurs from developing countries. We want to support those who can excel with some level of mentorship, skills training and seed financing. We provide potential job-creators better access to markets, which is what we are all about.‚”